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Story is set against the backdrop of WWI and follows Christopher Tietjens, a top civil servant from a background of wealth and privilege, whose marriage flounders almost as soon as it begins. He falls in love with another woman, but he remains honorable for some considerable time to Sylvia who has several affairs. On top of this, Chris is dealing with shell shock and partial memory loss that he endures during the war. Written by
Not since A Dance to the Music of Time has such a stellar cast been allied to such an artful and unusual script.
Ford Madox Ford is not a popular novelist. His work often approaches its subjects on an elliptical curve, his principal characters are seldom in the mainstream of society, forming odd relationships, requiring his audience to assimilate their understanding of them over the course of a whole work rather than categorise from their experience (or jump to conclusions based on genre). This explains why we don't see his work adapted very often. Or even at all.
Susanna White and Tom Stoppard have both grasped the nettle of demonstrating this sideways approach, though I'm not sure quite so many kaleidoscopic shots were necessary to drive the point home. Benedict Cumberbatch joins in, underlining his character's isolation with some rather off-putting facial gestures. Ronald Hines played Tietjens in the now lost 1960's adaptation and casting to type may have worked better than struggling with toning down the matinée idol status Cumberbatch has acquired since hitting Sherlock Holmes out of the park. Maybe if he and Stephen Graham had swapped roles the other characters might have found it easier to deal with Tietjens' self-enforced oddity but that may have impaired Ford's central point, beautifully delivered as the the climax to Episode 4.
But acting idiosyncrasies cannot mask the quality of the fabulous script or the overall adaptation which has a towering performance from Rebecca Hall and glittering additions from Rufus Sewell, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Roger Allam, Ann-Marie Duff and beautiful, note-perfect newcomer Adele Clemens.
With so much glossy soap about, it is extremely refreshing to have high quality, thought-provoking, challenging drama this good whatever the lead chooses to do with his jaw muscles.
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